Category Archives: Isabella of Castile

The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner

The Queen's Vow
Queen Isabella portrayed as a woman, as opposed to inquisitor

The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner
Ballantine June 2012
Hardcover 382 pages
Review copy from the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:3 Stars = Good, didn't totally rock my boat

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

Gortner enjoys writing of female monarchs who may have been vilified or misunderstood, and his newest novel is no different. Queen Isabella is most remembered for her role in the Spanish Inquisition and for funding Cristobal Colon’s voyage. Was she a money hungry, blood thirsty monarch, with ethnic cleansing views similar to Hitler? That would be open to interpretation, and Gortner uses his research to try and portray Isabella in a more positive light. The story takes us through four parts, which were all discussed during the HF-Connection Read-along so I feel like I may be repeating myself here.

Using a first person perspective the author attempts to humanize Isabella as she deals with both political and marital conflict. I felt that with the many names coming and going, Carillo, Villena, Chacon, it may have been easier to get a full-figured view of the time period if we were able to see it through someone else’s eyes and feel more of a sense of the political upheaval as well. Instead, using first person view of Isabella we are limited to her actions, thoughts and fears, which sometimes made me feel like I was trying peer through the haze to gather what was really happening elsewhere in the opposing factions/realms.

However, the author was not writing a historical novel regarding the period of Isabella, he was writing a novel on the character of Isabella. He does a great job of offering a glimpse of what could have been going through her head at various times, and we witness Isabella’s transformation from young adult to wife and ruler. My favorite parts were the beginning, where Isabella is developing her relationships with her brother Alfonso, and half-brother Enrique. Those relationships helped humanize Isabella in my eyes, as I could see Isabella loved Alfonso very much and was willing to wait for Enrique’s reign to be over before she reached for the throne of Castile. Another relationship (but ended up being a bit anti-climactic) was the fate of Juana la Beltraneja, the issue of Enrique’s wife who was considered illegitimate. The political turmoil between the family and their advisers was well portrayed and I was eager to read how it would play out.

An underlying theme is Fernando and Isabella’s marriage, going through the motions of the begetting of heirs for their realm in hopes of solidifying future political alliances. The other theme is the aspect of religion and how Isabella’s beliefs helped shape her life and therefore how she governed. However, Gortner shows that Isabella did not make the important decisions on her own, as she had several people close to her that she listened to. He attempts to show Isabella as very reluctant to be the Inquisitor, and suggests that perhaps it is Fernando who had more religious zeal. The aspect of religion and the ultimate belief that all things are done for God and in His name is another important topic to consider when learning of Isabella’s actions. The horrors inflicted on her people can be seen as a casualty of war, as she was on a mission to save her soul as well as her people. And to be fair, Isabella was one woman, and a product of her times. Her decisions were not her own.

This is a satisfying read for those who are interested in seeing a characterization of Isabella that possibly offers clues to why she made the epic decisions that she did, especially in regards to the persecution of her people. I am a reader who has to like a main character in order to fully enjoy a book, and I am predisposed to disliking Isabella. I wanted to be able to love this passionate Isabella, but I still wasn’t able to in the end. There were many battles and struggles going on around Isabella which became a major thrust of the novel, and this helps portray the image of Isabella as a Warrior Queen, even though it was Fernando who was doing most of the battle organizing. The politics of the era are another major theme to the novel, and I found the Spanish maneuverings and battles for control of cities slightly confusing as there was a lot of this carried out throughout the novel.

However, Isabella exhibited tenacity, passion for her causes, and love for her family and Gortner does a thorough job of portraying these characteristics throughout the novel. My favorite scenes were those that focused around her children, and how she interacted with her children. I wish there were more towards the end of the book that focused on the marriage, but that too was overshadowed with the political upheaval and the conquests. I also loved Isabella’s maid, Beatriz, who came in and out of the story.

One of the children that Tudor fans should recognize would be her daughter Catalina/Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England. Another daughter is Juana de Loca/Juana the Mad, who was a subject of Gortner’s novel The Last Queen, which I enjoyed and recommend. I recently conducted an interview with the author regarding his research on Isabella and writing this book, which can be found here.

Along the same theme, I have to recommend Mitchell James Kaplan’s novel By Fire, By Water, which was a  favorite of mine. It features Luis de Santangel, a character who was also mentioned in The Queen’s Vow as he becomes entrenched on both sides of the Spanish Inquisition. For those who have read The Queen’s Vow and would like to comment on many of the topics related to the book, feel free to comment on any of the discussion posts of the read along.



Filed under 15th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, C.W. Gortner, Isabella of Castile

Interview with C.W. Gortner, author of THE QUEEN’S VOW

Please welcome C.W. Gortner who graciously agreed to answer a few questions regarding THE QUEEN’S VOW: A Novel of Isabella of Castile, which releases TODAY!!

For your newest novel, The Queen’s Vow, what is the biggest message about Isabella that you are trying to convey?
As with my previous novels, my original intent was to uncover the flesh-and-blood woman behind the legend. Isabella of Castile is most often known as the queen who sent Columbus to America and the fanatic who unleashed the Inquisition. But few of us know the tumultuous, fascinating story of her rise to the throne or understand the complex choices she had to make as a woman in power in a time when women rarely ruled. So, for THE QUEEN’S VOW, I decided to explore how Isabella became the woman and queen we think we know. My biggest message is that, like all of us, she was first and foremost a human being.  She had both extraordinary qualities and terrible ones; she was an exceptional woman and a fallible one, molded by her particular circumstances and the era in which she lived. Perhaps more so than any of my other characters, Isabella’s contradictions ultimately define her.
Is there something you came across in your research for this novel that took you by surprise? Interesting facts about the characters?
I was very surprised to discover how passionate Isabella was. When we think of her, we get this mental picture of a staid, unyielding queen; certainly, the trajectory of her later years, which I cover in my first novel about her daughter, The Last Queen, shows a woman dedicated to protecting Spain and stoic in her faith and personal tragedies. However, the young Isabella sparked a civil war in her determination to marry Fernando of Aragón! I also had had no idea she was so forward-thinking in terms of women’s education. Isabella was born into a Spain fragmented by discord; bitter antagonism and private feuds had sowed near-total disorder. Even the most noble men were barely literate, and women scarcely at all. Isabella herself had no formal education, save for basics. Comparing her schooling, as it were, with that of Elizabeth Tudor, born eighty-two years later, offers startling contrast. Here we have two of history’s most famous queens, each of whom became a symbolic personification of her particular land, yet while Elizabeth enjoyed an impressive training that prepared her, even if accidentally, to rule, Isabella had none. She lamented her lack of education and in her early thirties, dedicated herself to mastering Latin. She also championed a decree that facilitated women’s entry into universities. She was the first queen of her country to allow women to earn degrees and become professors; she also brought the first printing presses to Castile, thereby sowing the seed of Spain’s golden era of letters in the 17th century.
What was the hardest scene to write?
Definitely, the scenes related to the Inquisition. I write about people who lived in the past and thus I strive to stay true to their way of viewing the world, but I rarely share their beliefs. Religious intolerance, cruelty to animals, any kind of human-phobia: these are hot-button topics for me, and yet the 16th century is defined as much by its injustice as its glamour. You can’t really write about a Renaissance person without touching on these unsavory traits, and it was challenging for me personally to get into Isabella’s skin and see the world as she did, when she was contemplating these deeds. But, part of being a writer is being able to disappear into your character, so I had to find that dark place inside me that we all have, though few of us admit it—that cellar in our minds, where anything different from what we find familiar frightens us and can lead us to condemn it. Hell and Heaven were not abstract concepts to the 16th century mind: most people genuinely believed in a retributive God and an afterlife of glory or eternal damnation, dependent on what, and who, you were in life. Saving your soul was therefore paramount to a woman of Isabella’s deep convictions.
Was there a scene that your editors made you cut that you wish could have stayed?
No, not really. I mean, there are always those scenes that we are fond of that our editors don’t particularly love and therefore must be sacrificed, but in the end editing is part of creating a final product that is accessible to readers. With my other books, yes, there were scenes I’d have loved to retain but with this novel, very little was actually cut. It came together in unexpected ways but never overflowed the perimeters that I had defined for it. It was orderly, much like Isabella herself.
Your historical novels have featured strong female figures. Is there a male monarch who’s story you would consider writing someday?
Absolutely, but the market is defined by readers and publishers, and so far, male lead characters have not proven as successful within the area that I’m currently writing in. With my Tudor spy series, I’m very fortunate to have a male lead and it makes for an exciting change for me as a writer. And of course, there are several kings I’d love to write about; perhaps, I’ll be able to one day. Certainly, I am always exploring ways to tell different stories that will appeal to my readers and my publishers.
Tell us about what you’re working on now. What is the time-table for your Spymaster Chronicles books?
The second book in the Spymaster Chronicles is titled The Tudor Conspiracy. It is finished and currently with my US and UK editors. Publication will be in 2013; I know these things always take longer than we like, but books have to be edited and covers designed; the text has to be set, and then there’s the daunting process of scheduling and marketing. However, I think the wait will be worth it: Brendan’s next adventure is a dark quest set in the winter of Bloody Mary’s reign, shortly before the Wyatt Revolt.
Now, I’m writing my next historical novel about Lucrezia Borgia, tracing her so-called Vatican years, from her youth as the illegitimate child of an ambitious Spanish churchman to her thrust into notoriety as the pope’s daughter and savage struggle to define herself as a woman even as she battles her family’s lethal ambitions and her own dark heart. Lucrezia is my first ‘non-queen’, so to speak, though it could be argued she was regarded as royalty in her era. Once again, I’ve found myself drawn to a woman who has been vilified by history. I am enthralled by Lucrezia and her world, as I hope you will be.
Thank you so much for having me. I sincerely hope readers enjoy THE QUEEN’S VOW. I’m always available to chat with book groups via Skype or speaker phone; to learn more about me and my work, please visit me at:
 Also, join us at HF-Connection where we will have a Read-Along of this novel, begining July 7, 2012. See the announcement here.


Filed under 15th Century, Author Interviews, Author Post, C.W. Gortner, Isabella of Castile

Review: Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen

Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen
Hardcover, 448 pages
Putnam Adult, August 4, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780399157097
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

From the author of The Creation of Eve comes a tale of love and madness, royal intrigue and marital betrayal, set during the Golden Age of Spain.
Juana of Castile, third child of the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando, grows up with no hope of inheriting her parents’ crowns, but as a princess knows her duty: to further her family’s ambitions through marriage. Yet stories of courtly love, and of her parents’ own legendary romance, surround her. When she weds the Duke of Burgundy, a young man so beautiful that he is known as Philippe the Handsome, she dares to hope that she might have both love and crowns. He is caring, charming, and attracted to her-seemingly a perfect husband.
But what begins like a fairy tale ends quite differently.
When Queen Isabel dies, the crowns of Spain unexpectedly pass down to Juana, leaving her husband and her father hungering for the throne. Rumors fly that the young Queen has gone mad, driven insane by possessiveness. Who is to be believed? The King, beloved by his subjects? Or the Queen, unseen and unknown by her people?
One of the greatest cautionary tales in Spanish history comes to life as Lynn Cullen explores the controversial reign of Juana of Castile-also known as Juana the Mad. Sweeping, page-turning, and wholly entertaining, Reign of Madness is historical fiction at its richly satisfying best.

Many historical fiction fans have been introduced to Juana of Castile by reading The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner (Ballantine, 2009) and now there is another novel of this often misunderstood queen. Sister to Catherine of Aragon and daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Juana came from a famous royal family and some would assume “good stock.” Yet, she is know as Juana the Mad. The traits of insanity have been linked to her, her brother, and Isabella’s mother, but how much of this is true? We may never really know, but we’ll have fun trying to find out!

Lynn Cullen delves into Juana’s life with this piece of fiction that is testament to the consuming power of greed of those who surround Juana. Christopher Colon (aka Columbus) was one of them, her husband was another and even Juana’s parents were. The titles that landed at Juana’s doorstep were unwanted and unexpected, and they eventually made her a prisoner in her own lands.

The author offers Juana’s story of most of her life, and embellishes a little here and there to make it different than that of C.W. Gortner’s recent novel. The two are similar in that they are both told in first person, and as such both are sympathetic towards Juana. The players around her change a little, which created a different contexts between the books, therefore I was not having too strong of a sense of deja vu. I enjoyed Lynn Cullen’s portrayal of Juana, and of the events that saw her imprisoned for reasons beyond her control. Juana’s husband Philippe was the one you would love to hate, and I would’ve enjoyed a little bit more story into what life was like after Philippe died. Her father Fernando seemed to be the villain at the end but it seemed to end a bit abruptly.

Poor Juana was the phrase going through my head for much of this read, and I wish there were something triumphant and hopeful that we could have gotten out of the read. Yet, more to the point, Juana lived her later life ruling as queen by name only, and perhaps there really was nothing to be hopeful for. One thing that troubles me has nothing to do with the book, but the fact that Phillippe was supposedly so handsome he was known as Philip the Handsome. I just don’t see it.

If you are interested in reading more of Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Colon, or Juana of Castile, this quick reading novel will not disappoint, although how much is true or not we would never know. As fiction, this novel was fast-paced and intrigued me enough to want to know more about Juana and her family. I was especially tickled to see Margaret of York, Dowager Duchess, featured as the evil grandmother of Philip and yet another power hungry player. Reign of Madness was a myriad of page-turning worry and suspense for Juana as this reader wished for Juana to fly out of her coop once and for all, and into the arms of the one who truly loved her…

Read an excerpt here.


Filed under 15th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Isabella of Castile, Juana of Castile, Spain

>GIVEAWAY! Mitchell Kaplan’s ‘By Fire, By Water’ Author Post


Available today for purchase!
Other Press (May 18, 2010)
The Burton Review is pleased to announce the virtual presence of Mitchell Kaplan, the author of the new novel By Fire, By Water. May 18th is it’s official release date and I wanted to help promote this spectacular piece of work with a giveaway and a guest post! I recently reviewed this book (linked here) and I recommend this novel to anyone interested in the dynamics that the Spanish Inquisition had on the common folk of the times. Read further for the details on how you can win a copy of this inspiring novel.
The Pope and the Spanish Inquisition
by Mitchell James Kaplan

In the late 1470s, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand approached Pope Sixtus IV with a request to establish an inquisition in Castille. The purpose of this tribunal would be to root out the “judaizing heresy” among so-called New Christians. Many of these New Christians descended from Jews forced to convert to Christianity two generations earlier.

The pope refused to authorize the establishment of this special inquisition. Isabella and Ferdinand answered by threatening to withdraw their military support for the pope’s crusade against the Ottomans.

This crusade was Sixtus’s most important project. The Islamic Ottoman empire had been slowly expanding since the 13th century. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was felt as an earthquake throughout Christendom. During the following decades, the Ottomans took the Balkans, Greece, much of North Africa, and even parts of present-day Italy. From where the pope sat, it looked like Rome was next. His primary responsibility was to protect Christendom.

Although wealthy New Christians effectively made their case to the pope, all their eloquence and gifts were worth little compared to the possibility of Spain’s withdrawal from the pope’s crusade. Yielding to Isabella and Ferdinand’s pressure, Sixtus IV finally allowed them to establish an inquisition in Castille. In a break with tradition, he even allowed them to appoint the inquisitors themselves.

To understand what Isabella and Ferdinand did with this historically unique opportunity, and why, you have to understand who they were.

In my view, Isabella of Castille was a usurper. She invented the myth that her half-brother Henry IV was “impotent” and/or a “sodomizer” and that Henry’s daughter Joanna, to whom he willed the throne, was illegitimate. She waged war on Henry and Joanna and ultimately prevailed, but only by marrying Ferdinand and adding the power of Aragon’s military to her own.

Isabella and Ferdinand were conquerors. Once they consolidated power in their own lands, they were not inclined to stop. In attempting to retake Granada from the Moors, they appealed to their soldiers’ religious zeal and patriotic fervor. But where had that zeal been when Isabella and Ferdinand had threatened to withdraw from the pope’s crusade? Surely the Ottomans represented a far greater threat to Christendom than the tiny Nasrid emirate in Granada.

The Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I, of Castile and León

In order to carry out their plan and achieve the greatness for which they believed they were destined, the monarchs needed capital. The fastest way to acquire this capital was to steal it from New Christians, who as a class had acquired sudden wealth since leaving their ghettos. By weakening the New Christians, Isabella and Ferdinand were able to appease their aristocratic supporters, many of whom felt threatened by the rapid rise of an “upper middle class” of New Christian traders, physicians, legal advisors, and cartographers.

In By Fire, By Water, I hinted at the struggle between the New Christians, the pope, and the monarchs of Spain. In one of the early drafts, I developed this thread further. But I came to feel it distracted from the thrust of my story, which needed to be focused on Luis de Santangel and Judith Migdal even while suggesting the complexity of their world. By Fire, By Water is not a book about the Inquisition per se. It is the story of a man whom the Spanish Inquisition scorched but did not burn.

Thank you so much to Mitchell for providing us with more insights into his novel.

The publisher is generously offering two copies for a giveaway (US/Canada only). To enter for this random drawing, you must comment with your email address, discussing anything related to the topics above, such as Isabella of Castille or Ferdinand of Aragon, Christopher Columbus/Colon (a character in the novel), or the Spanish Inquisition.

Edited to change the Giveaway date to May 28th. Good Luck!


Filed under 2010 Releases, Author Interviews, Author Post, Isabella of Castile, Mitchell James Kaplan, Spain, Spanish Inquisition

>Guest Author C.W. Gortner, author of "The Last Queen"


It is with extreme pleasure to offer this guest post by author C. W. Gortner, author of novel “The Last Queen”. I recently finished this novel (please see my review here) and I was caught up in the intrigue of Juana of Castile, who was indeed the Last Queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne of Castile. She is an amazing character, and one which historians differ on their views of whether Juana was mentally disturbed or not.

With the Paperback release of “The Last Queen” today, Gortner is embarking on a virtual tour to intrigue us even more! Tomorrow please visit Amy at Passages to the Past to see what fascinating details awaits us there!

Thank you to Christopher Gortner for supplying us with some more wonderful insight on this subject, Juana La Loca.

Power and Intrigue: Being a Queen of Spain Is Never Easy

by C.W. Gortner

In 1538, John Knox issued his pamphlet, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, in which he denounced the rule of women as “unnatural”. The pamphlet is a classic example of 16th century misogyny; like many men of his era, Knox believed women had no place on the throne and he saw the ascendancy of such queens as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I as a sign of corruption in the moral fabric of society.
Of course, history has proven him wrong. Elizabeth I brought glory to her island kingdom; Catherine de Medici steered France through one of history’s most savage religious conflicts and though her life was disastrous, Mary Stuart left behind a lasting legacy through her son James I. But they were not the first women to wear crowns in their own right; before them was Isabel of Spain, who overcame significant odds to become queen of Castile. Like Elizabeth I, Isabel was a female monarch of the Renaissance; in her lifetime she held more power and ruled a larger portion of Spain than her husband Ferdinand of Aragon. And she bequeathed all her power to her second eldest daughter, Juana of Castile, the central character of THE LAST QUEEN.
The kingdom Juana inherited had only recently been united under her parents. Isabel and Ferdinand’s marriage brought Castile and Aragon under one rule, ending centuries of rivalry. Their union also allowed them to fulfill the ambition of every Christian monarch of Spain: to banish the Moors and unite the entire country. By the time Isabel and Ferdinand accomplished this, France’s centuries-old centralized monarchial power menaced Spanish interests in the Mediterranean, while England had survived years of civil tumult to be ruled by the new Tudor dynasty. The Renaissance, flourishing in Italy since the 1400s, was about to sweep north, and Isabel of Castile was determined to place Spain at its forefront. She curtailed her nobles’ lawlessness; initiated strict new laws of adherence to the throne; and wrestled a feudal court into modernity. She, in fact, managed to achieve what no king in Spain before her had.
Why, then, did her daughter Juana experience such terrible difficulties when the time came to assume her throne? First of all, it is important to note that none of Isabel’s daughters were expected to rule; though all four reaped an enviable education, their anticipated roles in life were as queen-consorts. Though she had achieved the throne, Isabel apparently never paused to consider that her realm might fall to one of her daughters; it was only through misfortune that Juana suddenly found herself heiress to Castile and to her father’s realm of Aragón, which at the time did not sanction female succession.
Misogyny of the type promulgated by Knox was a major obstacle and source of conflict for Juana. Her husband Philip of Habsburg actively campaigned against her because he could not accept the lesser role of king-consort that accepting her as queen entailed, and Castile itself had a fractious yet powerful nobility, which had flourished during the long medieval age of divisiveness. They’d chaffed under the strict rule of Ferdinand and Isabel, who stripped them of their affluent holdings to support the Crown, their intrigues and zealous self-aggrandizement curbed by monarchs with no tolerance for anything that did not put Spain first. Isabel was definitely a queen to be reckoned with; but it cannot be overstated enough that she also had her husband’s support, something Juana lacked. Ferdinand may have held the lesser power on paper, but at court Isabel set him at her side as her equal and she never let her nobles forget it. With her demise and Ferdinand’s banishment (he had no further right to call himself king of Castile after his wife’s death) the nobility surged up against Juana, flocking to the bribery offered by her husband, Philip. They had determined that under no circumstances would another queen rule over them and they plunged Castile into chaos to prevent it.

Being a queen of Spain had never been easy. Only a handful of women had held power in Castile and all faced the machinations of the nobility, prejudices of their male counterparts, and, at times, the lethal ambitions and envy of husbands or sons. Juana of Castile stepped into the formidable shadow cast by a warrior-queen mother with only her bravura, her determination, and her blood right to do battle with. Unlike Isabel she lacked the support of her spouse and her nobles; she did not even have the ability to raise an army.
Yet like Isabel before her, she never conceded defeat.
C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing, with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies. He is the author of THE LAST QUEEN and THE SECRET LION. His novel about Catherine de Medici will be published by Ballantine Books in 2010. He enjoys interacting with his readers and is always available for reader group chats. Please visit him at:

THE LAST QUEEN: Ballantine Books Trade Paperback – Available May 5, 2009 in bookstores everywhere!
Other Stops on C.W. Gortner’s tour:
May 4, ’09 – Historical Tapestry
May 5, ’09 – A Bookish Mom
May 5, ’09- The Burton Review
May 6, ’09 – A Bookish Mom
May 6, 09 – Passages to the Past
May 7, ’09 – Savvy Verse & Wit
May 8, ’09 – Savvy Verse & Wit
May 11, ’09 – Ramya’s Bookshelf
May 13, ’09 – Medieval Bookworm
May 14, ’09 – Jo-Jo Loves to Read
May 15, ’09 – Bookgirl’s Nightstand
May 15, ’09 – Medieval Bookworm

May 19, ’09 – Sam’s Book Blog

May 19, ’09 – The Bluestocking Society
May 20, ’09 – Popin’s Lair
May 20, ’09 – The Epic Rat
May 21, ’09 – Marta’s Meanderings
May 21, ’09 – The Epic Rat
May 22, ’09 – The Book Connection
May 25, ’09 – Book Addiction
May 26, ’09 – The Book Faery Reviews
May 27, ’09 – Cafe of Dreams
May 28, ’09 – Cafe of Dreams
May 29, ’09 – A Book Lover
THE LAST QUEEN VIRTUAL BLOG TOUR ’09 will officially begin on May 4 and end on May 29. You can visit C.W.’s blog stops at in May to find out more about this talented author!As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors’ blog stops. More prizes will be announced as they become available.


Filed under Author Post, C.W. Gortner, Isabella of Castile, Juana of Castile, New Release

>Review: "The Last Queen" by C.W. Gortner

> Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 5, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0345501853

The Burton Review Rating = 5 stars!

“Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne, is an enigmatic figure, shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the bereft widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time?
In this stunning novel, C.W. Gortner challenges centuries of myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand.”

This is the story of a daughter of the infamous Ferdinand and Isabella, who was branded with the name Juana the Mad. Being told in first person through Juana’s eyes made the read more enjoyable and the writing flowed flawlessly from page to page. The novel begins at the youth of Juana as she adapts to her duties of being a member of the royal family in Castile and Aragon. We follow her as she marries and has children. Unfortunately for her, life is not as grand as it should have been, for Juana was surrounded by people who used her for her status alone. She and her siblings were bred as pawns for future marriages and never had a chance at living for themselves. Juana was made painfully aware that her first duty was to Spain, and to her mother’s prized Castile. She initially fell in love with her husband, Philip of Flanders, and happily gave him children, until she was forced to defy him due to his power hungry ways.

Unexpectedly and probably the most heartbreaking realization for her was the fact that her father was using Juana once the Queen Isabella died. Juana held fast to her beliefs and stayed strong in her resolve in order to secure the succession for her sons, and to honor the wishes of her mother Isabella. Gortner does a fine job in showing the strength of Juana’s resolve and her unwillingness to back down.

She had never expected that through one tragedy after another she would even have to ascend to the throne, as she was not the first in line. Although Juana resisted her fate as queen, she finally understood what her mother had been working for her entire life. Juana, the last Queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne, was never able to feel at peace in her life, there never seemed to be someone that she could trust with her life. Everyone about her had their own agendas, and even her eldest son had a hand in keeping her imprisoned. The emotional upheaval that Juana felt time and time again may have contributed to outbursts that probably lead to the stigma of being ‘mad’, and one could not blame her even if it were true. The novel does not outright say whether or not she did go mad, and it doesn’t support or deny it.

I am someone who’s favorite thing to read is Historical Fiction. I therefore could be biased in the review because of that, but I do not hesitate to recommend this to anyone else interested in Historical Fiction, European history, Castile and Aragon or simply the King and Queen of Castile. I only knew snippets of Juana’s reality, and I found this novel on Juana La Loca to be enthralling. I enjoyed learning more about Ferdinand and Isabella as well, I was quite surprised with the political outlook of Ferdinand. This was literally a page-turner, I was so wrapped up in the story of The Last Queen I did not want to put it down, nor did I want it to end. I am not a connoisseur of European history so I cannot attest to the facts of the events that C.W. Gortner wrote. But the fact that the story was told so exquisitely was enough for me. I could not find any faults with the book, and I am waiting with bated breath the next C.W. Gortner release which is about Catherine De Medici. There is a very interesting Reading guide at the end of the book, where certain points are explained that I enjoyed also.
Please see the Guest Post that C.W. Gortner is going to share with us! I am so excited to learn even more about Juana through him!
Other Stops on C.W. Gortner’s tour:
I will list all the blog tour stops on tomorrow’s Guest Author Post!


Filed under C.W. Gortner, Isabella of Castile, Juana of Castile, Review

>"Castile for Isabella" Review

>Now that I’ve officially finished “Castile”, I wanted to get the quick final review in. I mentioned most of the plot in the earlier post, and it continues with the focus on Isabella and ends when she finally manages to obtain the throne of Castile. As with most books dealing with crowns and disunity, there were several opposing forces at work trying to achieve their own status or prominence via their proximity to the crown, which was the plot for the book. Isabella stays true to herself and her upbringing and does not let others persuade her into an otherwise unhealthy alliance with anyone but her betrothed, Ferdinand. What were interesting were the characters surrounding Isabella, and the myriad of unworthy people prying their way into Isabella’s life. She has an unstable mother, a younger brother who is docile and loving, and an older brother who is King of Castile but who is pretty much useless in all ways.
Plaidy stays the course in this novel and is not as gripping as some of her other novels, yet Isabella as a young girl is not all that extraordinary, yet rather pious (her nickname is Isabella the Catholic). The character of Isabella is that of practically a saint, and her main focus is her betrothal and her vision of the alliance of Castile and Aragon. It will be interesting to see how Ferdinand and Isabella strategize for power both in state matters and marriage with the next novel of the trilogy. I’ll give this one 3.5 stars.


Filed under Isabella of Castile, Jean Plaidy, Review

>"Castile for Isabella" by Jean Plaidy

>Castile for Isabella” by Jean Plaidy
ISBN: 0-330-23830-2 Reprinted in UK June 2008 ISBN: 0-330-23830-2
Book one of the Ferdinand and Isabella Trilogy
(Burton Review, Part One)
Isabella was intriguing to me from my previous reads relating to Catherine of Aragon. Isabella was Catherine’s mother, and I also recognized Isabella as the one who supported Christopher Columbus in his discovery of the New World.

Jean Plaidy brings history to life with the novels she writes about Royalty and courtiers. In most of her novels there is not just a main character, there are always many supporting characters with equally absorbing storylines that effect the main plot. I don’t think I will ever meet a Plaidy Novel I didn’t like. So of course to no one’s surprise I would be giving a favorable review. Yet, with many thoughts going round and round my head when I am only halfway through the book, I wanted to get them down here so that #1 I would remember what is intriguing me while reading this, and #2 to avoid another lengthy ‘review’ post. I would welcome any comments!!

This novel begins the story of a young Isabella, born in 1451 to daughter to King John II of Castile & Isabella of Portugal. She is older sister to Alfonso, who is in his cradle at the opening of this novel. She has a great sisterly love for her older brother Henry IV of Castile, who became King of Castile after John died in 1454. The novel revolves around Isabella and her mother who is mentally unstable; and the court of Henry, with the drama resulting in certain factions and their choice as the proper heir of Castile.
Henry is shown as sexually active yet his wife, Blanche, fails to reproduce. Blanche is sent home and Henry takes a new wife, Joanna. Castile needs an heir! In the novel, Joanna takes matter into her hands and finally gives birth to a daughter. I immediately researched on the internet, is Joanna’s daughter, Joanna (Joan, Juana), illegitimate? Interesting topic of course and nothing can be proved.

Another interesting topic is the very sad mention in the book regarding the outcome of Blanche II of Navarre (Blanca), who is said to have been a virgin for the full thirteen years of her marriage to Henry IV. I wonder why that was? Was she ugly? When she was sent home to her family she was imprisoned and poisoned because her family (she was half-sister to Ferdinand!) wanted Navarre. Thus she was succeeded by her sister Eleanor upon the father’s passing. In the novel, a messenger from her sister Eleanor comes to Blanche hours before she is poisoned. Blanche’s father and stepmother are rumoured to also have poisoned Blanche’s brother Carlos (Charles) who was to be the father John II of Aragon’s (another John) heir. But the ‘evil’ stepmother only has needs for her children with John, and she doesn’t need any distractions from her husband’s children with a previous wife. At the top of the list of importance to John and his wife Juana Enríquez was Ferdinand. I can definitely say that I was upset that Blanche was poisoned. Of course nothing ever comes of it as far as anyone caring about it. And the fact that Carlos had died before her also, and still the King or his wife are not challenged regarding murders.

Isabella and Ferdinand are betrothed early on, and Isabella only has prayers and thoughts for that day they are to be together. She recognizes him as her saviour from a scary life where she can be used as a pawn by rebellious factions of her older brother Henry’s court.

More another day; this is pretty much to the point in the book that I’ve read up to.

Comments on the topics above, anyone?


Filed under Isabella of Castile, Jean Plaidy